Vodafone is preparing to approach its shareholders to persuade them to allow it to spend up to £10bn to buy the Vivendi-owned French's mobile phone business and a smattering of other minority holdings across Europe.
The Vivendi business, Segetel, is expected to be put on the block in the next few weeks as new chief executive Jean-René Fourtou tries to get to grips with the French media group's €33bn (£21bn) of debts. A clear-out of Vivendi assets is expected to follow the departure of previous boss Jean-Marie Messier.
Analysts are expecting Vivendi's 44 per cent of Segetel to be put on the block for about €8bn. Vodafone, which owns 32 per cent of the business, does not deny its desire to buy the Vivendi stake, with Sir Christopher Gent saying it was Vivendi's prize asset.
The minority shareholders, including BT, would want to sell if Vivendi sold its holding to Vodafone, taking the cost to around £8bn.
Vodafone is expected to make an offer for the 48 per cent of Greek mobile phone business Panofone it does not already own, paying some £800m. Citigroup analysts have predicted Vodafone would buy out its other minority stakes in businesses based in Holland, Portugal and Sweden. The total cost of the deals could exceed £2.5bn.
Vodaphone shareholders have told Sir Christopher they would rather the company with its £12bn debts buy in some of its shares rather than go on another spending spree.
However, a Vodaphone spokesman said: "Before we do anything we will talk with our shareholders. We don't want to have a riot after the event."
It is already facing a tricky time with shareholders who want to vent their unhappiness over pay awards for Sir Christopher and may do so at the group's AGM on 31 July.
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